Henry Rogers had big plans for one of his rising young employees. Then he overheard something that changed his mind.
Rogers, who died in 1995 at age 82, was co-founder and chairman of Rogers & Cowan, one of Hollywood’s leading public relations firms. In his 1984 book, Rogers’ Rules for Success, he recalls walking down the hall when a conversation behind closed doors caught his attention.
“Joe is really a louse,” Rogers heard his employee tell a colleague. “I’m telling you—he’s evil.”
Rogers was stunned. Joe, the employee’s mentor, had hired him. Trashing the man who had recruited him struck Rogers as a breach of loyalty.
“This young man’s imprudent remark demonstrated his potential to be an in-house troublemaker,” Rogers wrote. “If he talked with such lack of discretion within the walls of our office, how could I trust him to speak well of Rogers & Cowan once he walked out the front door?”
Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to speak ill of others. But you never know how one seemingly mild putdown can come back to bite you. Rogers built his legendary career—his clients ranged from Audrey Hepburn to Kirk Douglas—in part on his positive nature and high ethical standards.
If he felt compelled to criticize someone, he would do so in a private meeting and convey his disapproval in a diplomatic tone. But most of the time, he focused on others’ impressive traits and expressed genuine admiration for them.
The next time you’re about to insult people behind their back, ask yourself, “What’s to gain?” Be especially wary if you’re chatting with someone who can’t stop making harsh statements about others. It’s easy to fall into the trap of adding your own attacks to the mix.